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Three-time Wilder Prize champ shares his thoughts

John Walsh ’04 delivered three prize-winning speeches to the Brooks School community during his years here, each time finding the emotional issue that pulled at the heartstrings of his fellow students.

One of those emotional triggers? Saturday classes, of course.

“I remember delivering the line: ‘We, as future leaders, have a responsibility to make sure the Brooks administration realizes that Saturday classes are saturating its students with stress,’” Walsh says.

And with that, came thunderous applause from the crowd of teenagers — even if teachers and the headmaster weren’t so pleased.

“But that’s the beauty of the Wilder Speaking Prize; it gives everyone an opportunity to get up there and speak his or her mind, provoke thought, overcome fear and hone a truly meaningful skill,” says Walsh.

The Wilder Speaking Prize winner for 2002, 2003 and 2004 went on to win the White Denison Prize in Public Speaking at Syracuse University.

He eventually came back to Brooks for a visit, and to set up the John Walsh III Public Speaking Fund, which provides $5,000 to be used not only to support the Wilder Speaking Prize, but also public speaking initiatives such as those of the oratory class, that advance the public speaking skills of Brooks students.

Walsh says he wanted to donate to the school, and specifically to the program that he felt helped him the most.

“Coming to Brooks was a bit of a culture shock for me; I was a pretty quiet kid. By my senior year, I was elected student government president, and I attribute that largely to my success in public speaking — particularly because I was able to win over the students with a speech,” says Walsh. “The Wilder Speaking contest is a unique competition that did a lot for me, so I wanted to do what I could to keep the contest alive for the future.”

Walsh is now the director of business development at Elizabeth Grady, based in Boston. And while he doesn’t give many speeches to large crowds these days, he — like many former Wilder winners — notes that he does rely on the skills he learned during the speaking contests.

“The skills you gain from practicing public speaking really translate to all aspects of your life. Whether it is in conversation, negotiation, persuasion or construct a narrative to get all of your points across, public speaking really prepares you to do so in a confident and convincing manner,” says Walsh. “Not to mention, when you can embrace and overcome the fear of speaking in front of people, you can be comfortable in just about any situation.”

— Michelle Morrissey

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